Delia Blanchflower

Produced by Andrew Templeton, Juliet Sutherland, Charlie
Kirschner and PG Distributed Proofreaders

DELIA

BLANCHFLOWER

BY

MRS. HUMPHRY WARD

AUTHOR “LADY ROSE’S DAUGHTER,” ETC.

Frontispiece in color by

WILL FOSTER

DELIA BLANCHFLOWER

Chapter I

“Not a Britisher to be seen—or scarcely! Well, I can do without ’em
for a bit!”

And the Englishman whose mind shaped these words continued his
leisurely survey of the crowded salon of a Tyrolese hotel, into which a
dining-room like a college hall had just emptied itself after the
mid-day meal. Meanwhile a German, sitting near, seeing that his tall
neighbour had been searching his pockets in vain for matches, offered
some. The Englishman’s quick smile in response modified the German’s
general opinion of English manners, and the two exchanged some remarks
on the weather—a thunder shower was splashing outside—remarks which
bore witness at least to the Englishman’s courage in using such
knowledge of the German tongue as he possessed. Then, smoking
contentedly, he leant against the wall behind him, still looking on.

He saw a large room, some seventy feet long, filled with a
miscellaneous foreign crowd—South Germans, Austrians, Russians,
Italians—seated in groups round small tables, smoking, playing cards
or dominoes, reading the day’s newspapers which the funicular had just
brought up, or lazily listening to the moderately good band which was
playing some Rheingold selection at the farther end.

To his left was a large family circle—Russians, according to
information derived from the headwaiter—and among them, a girl,
apparently about eighteen, sitting on the edge of the party and
absorbed in a novel of which she was eagerly turning the pages. From
her face and figure the half savage, or Asiatic note, present in the
physiognomy and complexion of her brothers and sisters, was entirely
absent. Her beautiful head with its luxuriant mass of black hair, worn
low upon the cheek, and coiled in thick plaits behind, reminded the
Englishman of a Greek fragment he had admired, not many days before, in
the Louvre; her form too was of a classical lightness and perfection.
The Englishman noticed indeed that her temper was apparently not equal
to her looks. When her small brothers interrupted her, she repelled
them with a pettish word or gesture; the English governess addressed
her, and got no answer beyond a haughty look; even her mother was
scarcely better treated.

Close by, at another table, was another young girl, rather younger than
the first, and equally pretty. She too was dark haired, with a delicate
oval face and velvet black eyes, but without any of the passionate
distinction, the fire and flame of the other. She was German,
evidently. She wore a plain white dress with a red sash, and her little
feet in white shoes were lightly crossed in front of her. The face and
eyes were all alive, it seemed to him, with happiness, with the mere
pleasure of life. She could not keep herself still for a moment. Either
she was sending laughing signals to an elderly man near her, presumably
her father, or chattering at top speed with another girl of her own
age, or gathering her whole graceful body into a gesture of delight as
the familiar Rheingold music passed from one lovely motif to another.

“You dear little thing!” thought the Englishman, with an impulse of
tenderness, which passed into foreboding amusement as he compared the
pretty creature with some of the matrons sitting near her, with one in
particular, a lady of enormous girth, whose achievements in eating and
drinking at meals had seemed to him amazing. Almost all the middle-aged
women in the hotel were too fat, and had lost their youth thereby,
prematurely. Must the fairy herself—Euphrosyne—come to such a muddy
vesture in the end? Twenty years hence?—alack!

“Beauty that must die.” The hackneyed words came suddenly to mind, and
haunted him, as his eyes wandered round the room. Amid many coarse or
commonplace types, he yet perceived an unusual number of agreeable or
handsome faces; as is indeed generally the case in any Austrian hotel.
Faces, some of them, among the very young girls especially, of a
rose-tinted fairness, and subtly expressive, the dark brows arching on
white foreheads, the features straight and clean, the heads well
carried, as though conscious of ancestry and tradition; faces, also, of
the bourgeoisie, of a simpler, Gretchen-like beauty; faces—a few—of
“intellectuals,” as he fancied,—including the girl with the
novel?—not always handsome, but arresting, and sometimes noble. He
felt himself in a border land of races, where the Teutonic and Latin
strains had each improved the other; and the pretty young girls and
women seemed to him like flowers sprung from an old and rich soil. He
found his pleasure in watching them—the pleasure of the Ancient
Mariner when he blessed the water-snakes. Sex had little to say to it;
and personal desire nothing. Was he not just over forty?—a very busy
Englishman, snatching a hard-earned holiday—a bachelor, moreover,
whose own story lay far behind him.

Beauty that must die” The words reverberated and would not be
dismissed. Was it because he had just been reading an article in a new
number of the Quarterly, on “Contemporary Feminism,” with mingled
amazement and revolt, roused by some of the strange facts collected by
the writer? So women everywhere—many women at any rate—were turning
indiscriminately against the old bonds, the old yokes, affections,
servitudes, demanding “self-realisation,” freedom for the individuality
and the personal will; rebelling against motherhood, and life-long
marriage; clamouring for easy divorce, and denouncing their own
fathers, brothers and husbands, as either tyrants or fools; casting
away the old props and veils; determined, apparently, to know
everything, however ugly, and to say everything, however outrageous? He
himself was a countryman, an English provincial, with English public
school and university traditions of the best kind behind him, a mind
steeped in history, and a natural taste for all that was ancient and
deep-rooted. The sketch of an emerging generation of women, given in
the Quarterly article, had made a deep impression upon him. It seemed
to him frankly horrible. He was of course well acquainted, though
mainly through the newspapers, with English suffragism, moderate and
extreme. His own country district and circle were not, however, much
concerned with it. And certainly he knew personally no such types as
the Quarterly article described. Among them, no doubt, were the women
who set fire to houses, and violently interrupted or assaulted Cabinet
ministers, who wrote and maintained newspapers that decent people would
rather not read, who grasped at martyrdom and had turned evasion of
penalty into a science, the continental type, though not as yet
involved like their English sisters in a hand-to-hand, or fist-to-fist
struggle with law and order, were, it seemed, even more revolutionary
in principle, and to some extent in action. The life and opinions of a
Sonia Kovalevski left him bewildered. For no man was less omniscient
than he. Like the Cabinet minister of recent fame, in the presence of
such femmes fortes, he might have honestly pleaded, mutatis
mutandis
, “In these things I am a child.”

Were these light-limbed, dark-eyed maidens under his eyes touched with
this new anarchy? They or their elders must know something about it.
There had been a Feminist congress lately at Trient—on the very site,
and among the ghosts of the great Council. Well, what could it bring
them? Was there anything so brief, so passing, if she did but know it,
as a woman’s time for happiness? “Beauty that must die.”

As the words recurred, some old anguish lying curled at his heart
raised its head and struck. He heard a voice—tremulously
sweet—”Mark!—dear Mark!—I’m not good enough—but I’ll be to you all
a woman can.”

She had not played with life—or scorned it—or missed it. It was not
her fault that she must put it from her.

In the midst of the crowd about him, he was no longer aware of it.
Still smoking mechanically, his eyelids had fallen over his eyes, as
his head rested against the wall.

He was interrupted by a voice which said in excellent though foreign

English—

“I beg your pardon, sir—I wonder if I might have that paper you are
standing on?”

He looked down astonished, and saw that he was trampling on the day’s
New York Herald, which had fallen from a table near. With many
apologies he lifted it, smoothed it out, and presented it to the
elderly lady who had asked for it.

She looked at him through her spectacles with a pleasant smile.

“You don’t find many English newspapers in these Tyrolese hotels?”

“No; but I provide myself. I get my Times from home.”

“Then, as an Englishman, you have all you want. But you seem to be
without it to-night?”

“It hasn’t arrived. So I am reduced, as you see, to listening to the
music.”

“You are not musical?”

“Well, I don’t like this band anyway. It makes too much noise. Don’t
you think it rather a nuisance?”

“No. It helps these people to talk,” she said, in a crisp, cheerful
voice, looking round the room.

“But they don’t want any help. Most of them talk by nature as fast as
the human tongue can go!”

“About nothing!” She shrugged her shoulders.

Winnington observed her more closely. She was, he guessed, somewhere
near fifty; her scanty hair was already grey, and her round, plain face
was wrinkled and scored like a dried apple. But her eyes, which were
dark and singularly bright, expressed both energy and wit; and her
mouth, of which the upper lip was caught up a little at one corner,
seemed as though quivering with unspoken and, as he thought, sarcastic
speech. Was she, perchance, the Swedish Schriftstellerin of whom he
had heard the porter talking to some of the hotel guests? She looked a
lonely-ish, independent sort of body.

“They seem nice, kindly people,” he said, glancing round the salon.

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